Seventeen years ago, the body of Stacey Stites was found in a wooded area near Bastrop. Rodney Reed was convicted for the murder and sent to death row, but for years rumors have swirled he was innocent.
On Wednesday, judges in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard 30 minutes worth of arguments on Reed’s case. It’s the first federal hearing after a string of state appeals. In 2009, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected arguments by Reed’s defense that new evidence pointed to Stites' former fiancé, then Giddings Police Officer Jimmy Fennell, as the murderer.
For almost two decades, Sandra Reed has kept her vow to fight for her son’s innocence.
"Knowing the evidence, knowing the truth keeps us strong," she said.
With the help of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, there's new hope for justice on the federal stage.
"A new trial would be fantastic,” Lily Hughes with Campaign to End the Death Penalty said. “Any kind of review we would be happy with. Any sort of movement."
The group argues Reed's defense attorneys were ineffective -- failing to bring to court evidence and witnesses that bolstered his alibi.
Advocates say there's new analysis of DNA that supports Reed's claims.
"All the evidence that we have been trying to get in, we can now bring it in,” Sandra Reed said. “That makes me confident."
Death Penalty opponents also point to the all-white jury that convicted Reed.
"In a small town, in Texas, you know, a black man dating a white woman, the fiancée of a police officer?” Hughes said. “I think that race very much has something to do with it."
After years of fighting for her son's life, Sandra Reed says she will never give up.
"We made a pact," she said. "I'll stay strong as long he stays strong and he'll stay strong as long as Momma stays strong."
The federal justices could decide to let the conviction stand or order a new trial. That decision will likely come next year.